Teachers union election timing questioned; Candidate for president seeks ruling to delay vote


A guidance counselor who wants to become president of the Baltimore Teachers Union doesn't think it's a coincidence that the election is being held chiefly during school hours on a busy test day.

Nor does Belinda Conaway-Washington believe it's accidental that the incumbent officers are first on the ballot instead of the more common listing of candidates in alphabetical order.

Saying these are tactics of a union leadership determined to stay in power, Conaway-Washington has gone to court to seek an injunction to delay Thursday's election of top union officers.

Union officials yesterday dismissed Conaway-Washington's allegations and said its elections have always been held during school hours. "Basically, we don't agree," said Aaron Pinchback, a union spokesman, "and we don't see this going anywhere."

Conaway-Washington's suit alleges that union leaders are "engaged in a plan and conspiracy to retain and consolidate their positions" and "have used both time and location constraints to make it physically impossible for many BTU members to cast their ballots."

Union President Marietta English and her supporters are attempting to keep turnout low, Conaway-Washington says, by scheduling the balloting primarily when teachers will be in the classroom and on a day when many will be administering mandatory state tests. The suit also contends that the six voting locations are too few and too far apart for the 6,500 members.

"If you really wanted to get teacher input, the hours would be extended," said Conaway-Washington. "What teacher do you know of that's available at 10: 30 in the morning?"

In what has become an increasingly hard-fought battle, five candidates are vying to become president of the teachers organization.

English, president since January 1998, is seeking another two-year term. She faces four challengers, including Conaway-Washington, a guidance counselor at West Baltimore Middle School and the daughter of Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway. The other three candidates are longtime teachers Sharon Blake, Joseph Gwin and Walter Marse.

Pinchback acknowledged that the timing isn't ideal because many teachers will be administering exams under the Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program, the state's annual school-by-school assessment.

Still, Pinchback said, "If the teachers are really interested in what happens to the union, they'll take the time to come out and vote."

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